As if I had planned it that way, I did my 7th uphill walk on the 7th day of the 7th month…. We’ve raised almost $600 (we’re – appropriately – $7 short)! We got $400 more to go to reach my goal of raising $1,000 to support the work of the Alternatives to Marriage Project. If you haven’t done so already, you can donate online or give me a check or cash. If you’ve done so already thank you!
I learned today that I don’t find all Against the Grain podcasts interesting. I started out with one that sounded interesting – talking about how US consumers have supported the US empire – but when I realized that I was more interested in beating up Muni because buses were passing me every minute or so, I decided it was time to switch. First, a little about the buses, though. Some of my walk is along a bus route. I was passed by 7 buses of the same route going the same direction in about 30 minutes! Frequent bus service? No. Bad planning. 4 of those buses were literally back to back! Okay, sorry, I just had to get this little rant in… On to the podcast. I switched to a talk by Ruth Wilson Gilmore on the prison industrial complex. Some of the things that I especially enjoyed hearing related to Gilmore’s emphasis on the need for analysis before we “raise our fists.” “Analysis,” she said, “and dismantling or reconfiguring a system are inseparable activities.” (Yes, I stopped to write that down…). “We have to analyze to make the change. […] Analysis is necessary to political action.” I wonder if that’s what’s often missing with today’s political action – there isn’t a lot of system analysis going on. I cannot imagine a movement for same-sex marriage if there had been an analysis of marital privilege, for example. We’d be dismantling marriage instead.
Gilmore sets out to explain the astonishing increase of the prison population by looking at the political culture of the US. Prison population grew from about 280,000 in the early 1980s to 2.3 million in 2008. What political culture is behind this large increase? According to Gilmore, there are three features within the American political culture that are supporting this dramatic increase:
- The state is strong with a default legitimate state of “the racial state.” That is the state controls based on race.
- “A man was not born to run away” epitomize the certain kind of masculinity has been normalized. British Common Law suggested that the masculine thing to do was to honor the duty to retreat. This normalizes the notion that “the key to safety is aggression.”
- The US goes to war often. There is a high correlation between governmental activities, such as war, and crime: “Every time the US goes to war and wins, the homicide rate goes up.” So, “the State models behavior for the people.”
Gilmore integrates this analysis of the political culture with her critique of the “prison industrial complex,” which includes providing the background on this term. You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out what she says because it’ll be difficult to summarize her arguments since she is presenting a summary of the reasons that have been put forth for the increase in the prison population and then debunks each one. It is very condensed already. You can also find some of her arguments here and of course in her book.
I would like to summarize a point she made, though, about coalition building: To connect people and issues. In order to build coalitions, we need to start seeing the connections between the various topics. For example, prison expansion impacts the environment negatively, thus people fighting against environmental destruction might be willing to help stop prison expansion. The academic equivalent of coalition building is interdisciplinary work. This can help us with analytically grounded political action.
The full talk Gilmore gave at Evergreen State College is available as streaming media. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a transcript.
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